So unreachable am I that only love or death can take me out of my orbit. I revolve around a word that empties other words. My four seasons are all one season: exile (from Mohsen Emadi's collection "Standing on Earth", 2016:67) 1. Introduction
If the award-winning poet and translator Mohsen Emadi is asked, "Where are you from?", he will answer, "I'm from exile". Born in a small village in northern
Iran, Emadi first moved to the capital city of Tehran without knowing that he was embarking on a life-long journey. After the election of 2009, political reasons forced him to leave the country. Since then, he has lived in Finland, the Czech Republic, and Spain, and is currently based in Mexico, splitting his time between Mexico City, where he conducts a doctoral research on digital poetry at UNAM, and Malincalo, where he collaborates on several cultural projects. Collections of his poems have been published in Iran and Spain. He also translates poetry (Interview with Emadi, see footnote 3; Saresma 2019).
A cosmopolitan, an exile, and a citizen of the world of poetry for whom "the world is home" (Davison and Muppidi 2011:5), Emadi writes poems on loss and displacement, charting his experiences of mobility as "someone who goes to bed in one city and wakes up in another", as the author and his poetry are described on the back cover of the collection, Standing on Earth (2016), translated into English from the original Persian by Lyn Coffin.
This essay is based on Emadi's poems, published in the aforementioned collection, as well as a biographical interview I conducted with the poet in the spring of 2017 (1) and is combined with theoretical reflections on diaspora, nomadism, and exile by researchers such as Edward Said and Rogers Brubaker. My aim here is not to analyze Emadi's poems as such: this is not literary text analysis, but instead a hybrid, where I aim at creating a poetic-conceptual discussion, entangling Emadi's own words both from his poems and citing the interview, with theoretical ponderings on exile and diaspora. Instead of me having the last word by giving my interpretations about the poems, I wanted to let Emadi's words speak for themselves, trusting the reader to make the connections.
Following Emadi, I take a critical look on the concept of diaspora and discuss mobility and exile both as a forced condition and as a choice. Here, the experiences of both voluntary and coerced mobility are considered from the perspective of an individual within the context of global mobility. I will begin with a brief review of the concepts of exile, diaspora, mobility, and nomadism--all central to the life and career of Mohsen Emadi. After that, I will explore how he negotiates his experiences of exile through writing, thus adding another layer to the theoretical conversation on exile. The life story of the poet and his reflections are mediated with his own words, spiced with my interpretation and con-textualization. The aim is to show how mobility, both forced and voluntary, are harnessed as a driving force of Mohsen Emadi's art.
The galaxy of farewell does not have any sun (from Standing on Earth, 2016:52) 2. On concepts
Edward Said (1994:402) has suggested that our age is characterized by the production of an unprecedented quantity of 'refugees, migrants, displaced persons, and exiles'. This gives urgency to the exploration of both the experiences of the processes producing displacement and the concepts themselves.
First of all, the experiences of mobile people vary according to their position in the webs of hierarchical power relations that include gender, class, ethnic background, racialization, geographical location of origin, and education (on the intersections of power of mobile people, see Saresma 2016). The stark difference between the 'optimistic mobility' shared by many intellectuals theorizing mobility and the "massive dislocations, waste, misery, and horrors endured in our century's migrations and mutilated lives" (Said 1994:403) must not be downplayed in research. Also, the situation appears to have only worsened after Said's comment. This has been the case especially after the events of 2015 when a record number of African and Middle Eastern people arrived in Europe seeking asylum. The media soon dubbed this the 'refugee crisis'. However, the crisis was first and foremost a European crisis, or Europe's border crisis (Vaughan-Williams 2015); the events were only framed as a crisis by right-wing populist actors once they reached the borders of Europe (Perala and Niemi 2018).
Secondly, the concepts related to voluntary and forced migration are used in multiple and sometimes confusing ways. In what follows, I will briefly discuss the ways in which concepts such as exile, diaspora, and the nomad, are used in academic literature in order to preface the exploration of Mohsen Emadi's use of these concepts.
According to Andreas Hackl (2017:55), exile is "an ancient concept expressing a form of political banishment and the enduring consequences of forced displacement". As a form of punishment, an enforced expulsion from the natal community has always been about forced relocation (ibid.). As such, it has been considered a negative phenomenon. Said (2001:173) found it 'terrible to experience', while admitting that the idea of exile had a 'strangely compelling' character.
The figure of the migrant, for Said (1994:203), has the consciousness of "the intellectual and artist in exile, the political figure between domains, between forms, between homes, and between languages" and is the incarnation of "unhoused, decentered, and exilic energies". This somewhat idealistic definition betrays a certain undertone of admiration towards artistic and intellectual freedom that Said calls 'intellectual exile', although he does make a point of reminding us that he does not wish to liken 'the bravura performances' of the intellectual exile to "the miseries of the displaced person or refugee" (ibid.).
Indeed, it is not unusual for artists and intellectuals to be voluntarily dislocated, or to find themselves "geographically or linguistically 'out of place'", as Olli Loytty (2018:71) states, continuing: "the list of writers in exile or writers who have voluntarily emigrated from their country of origin is long". This suggests that the experience of exile can be a fruitful ground for creativity, turning the dislocation into a potentially productive state.
The concept of refugee "entails a legal dimension and indicates impermanency", setting it apart from exile, which "features temporal depth and a concern with 'integration'" (Peteet 2007:633-636). The modern refugee, for Said (2001:181), "suggests an anonymous collective of 'innocent and bewildered people'" whereas a modern nomad (Braidotti 2004) as always on the move, 'always becoming', is a transgressor that challenges state control and embodies freedom (Engebrightsen 2017).
Diaspora is a relatively new concept, having entered the social sciences lexicon only in the 1960s, "becoming an all-purpose word in the 1980s" (Dufoix 2008:19), and eventually replacing 'exile' in the media and scholarly discussion due to the influential theories of globalization and postmodernism (Hackl 2017:59). Originally, discussions on diaspora referred to a conceptual 'homeland', and the 'classical' diasporas were those of the Jews, Armenians, and Greeks (Brubaker 2006:2). Later, the term has also been used to refer to the African diaspora (Rastas 2014). Recent decades have witnessed an "explosion of interest in diasporas", Rogers Brubaker (2005:1) notes, and the meanings of the concept have dispersed accordingly. This has led to a situation where some emigrant groups have been called diasporas "because of their continued involvement in homeland politics", and the word is even used in reference to labor migrants who still have emotional and social ties with their homeland (Brubaker 2006:2).
The aforementioned usage of the concepts of diaspora and exile follows certain wider academic trends, but it is important to note that they also refer to different levels of social relations. As Hackl (2017:60) puts it, exile as "solitude outside the group" (Said 2001:177) differs essentially from "diaspora's 'groupness'" (Brubaker 2005:12). Exile, however, is not only a subjective experience in the sense that as a condition, it "links displaced subjectivity with larger political forces" (Hackl ibid.). Exile also "saturates classificatory terms such as 'refugee' or 'migration' with temporal depth, political agency and deeper subjective meaning" (ibid.).
Nomadism as a form of mobility differs from exile and diaspora in the sense that it does not require permanent dislocation, but includes recurrent traveling between certain places and temporary, yet repetitive movement. Nomadism is defined in Encyclopaedia Iranica as "a way of life and human existence that is connected with permanent and more or less regular movements of people between different locations" (Ehlers 2011). It is typical for nomads to follow "clearly defined routes" in moving between destinations, "pursuing their economic activities and ensuring their livelihood" (ibid.). The source of livelihood of pastoral nomads is domesticated animal husbandry and their migration is directed by "established routes between focal grazing areas". The nomadic way of life includes the "mobility of herds, people, and their habitats" (ibid.). The nomadic lifestyle in Iran is determined by the country's geography; the mountains and deserts and the distinctly arid climate have given rise to a special form of nomadism, namely 'mountain nomadism' or 'vertical nomadism'. Archaeological and anthropological evidence shows that various "forms of mobile and nomad-like pastoralism have been practiced in Iran's mountain belt since prehistorical times" (ibid.).
Sometimes, the concepts of exile, diaspora, and nomadism are also used interchangeably. In what follows, I will turn...